York perspective: plenty of questions unanswered, but here’s one colt tailormade for the Breeders’ Cup

Ulysses

By Chris Smith, courtesy Thoroughbred Racing Commentary

The racing at last week’s Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival was magnificent for sure, but it still leaves many questions to answer. We know Enable is very, very good, for instance, but is she a Treve or a Zarkava? We’re none the wiser. Did her stablemate Cracksman show himself to be Europe’s leading middle-distance 3-year-old colt? Maybe, maybe not. Did it narrow the field in the race to be champion sprinter? No, the opposite in fact.

One picture that became much, much clearer, however, is the one that concerns the European challenge for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, traditionally the continent’s strongest race at the World Championships in November.

After York’s greatest race, the mile-and-a-quarter G1 Juddmonte International, we have a colt of supreme quality running better than he has ever done aimed squarely at Del Mar on November 4.

It’s apparent now that, before last Wednesday’s race, a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the Longines Turf, Ulysses had been a work in progress. His beautifully unhurried disposal of the titans that are Churchill and BarneyRoy (see YouTube video below) showed clearly that that work is now if not finished then certainly nearing completion.

Post-race talk regarding the second and third centred around Irish Champions Day, British Champions Day, even the Arc. Not for Ulysses, though. Trainer Sir Michael Stoute was unequivocal. “The owners are keen to go for the Breeders’ Cup Turf,” he announced.

Alan Cooper, racing manager to owners the Niarchos family (who operate in this case as ‘Flaxman Holdings Ireland Ltd’) elaborated this week. “The plan is to work back from the Breeders’ Cup,” he said. “To give the horse one more run would be the case in an ideal world, but we’ll feel our way and see what’s best for the horse.”

Ulysses, then an inexperienced 3-year-old, ran fourth in the Turf at Santa Anita last year. It wasn’t a bad effort - the horses in front of him were all superstars: Highland Reel, Flintshire and Found.

Remorseless gallop

This season he has progressed every time he’s run as the key to riding him has revealed itself. He cruised up to Highland Reel on the bridle a furlong out in Royal Ascot’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes in June, momentarily heading him, but faltered when the Ballydoyle battler dug deep. Jockey Jim Crowley waited a little longer in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown in July and took it up inside the final furlong. He won, but only just as Barney Roy surged back at him on the line.

At York though, Crowley was spot on. He stalked Churchill and Barney Roy as they battled through the final quarter mile. He waited. Then he waited some more. Then, inside the last furlong, he eased out and past them to win going away by two lengths.

The King George at Ascot in between the Eclipse and York was a different matter, of course. He was up against Enable. He tracked the filly until her remorseless gallop proved too strong inside the final quarter-mile. That was on softish ground, though, and over a mile and a half. Put him up against her over two furlongs less and on a quicker surface, and the result could be different.

The mile and a half on Breeders’ Cup Saturday will be far more to the Galileo colt’s taste than the stiff mile and a half on testing ground at Ascot, and it is no wonder that most British bookmakers have him around 3-1 favourite for the Longines Turf.

Challenging Ulysses for Turf favouritism is defending champ Highland Reel, who could run at Del Mar if he remains sound through what’s likely to be another run-in-virtually-everything autumn campaign. Leading U.S. contender is Secretariat Stakes winner Oscar Performance, who may be underrated at a best price 10-1.

The Niarchos Family are committed Breeders’ Cup supporters, the 28 runners who have contested the championships since 1984 under Niarchos or Flaxman Holdings banners having included seven winners, including one in the Turf - Main Sequence in 2014.

Of course Ulysses benefits from similar enthusiasm from his trainer. Sir Michael Stoute is the second most successful European on the Breeders’ Cup roll behind only Aidan O’Brien.

Sir Michael Stoute at the Breeders’ Cup

 

Runs

Wins

2nd

3rd

4th

Total prize money

All races

38

7

2

4

4

$10.68m

Longines BC Turf

4

2

0

1

2

$7.11m

Jockey Crowley is slightly less familiar with matters Breeders’ Cup, however. The current British champion has had just one mount there - on the unplaced Lord Shanakill in the 2009 Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.

Crowley, though, has come a long way since those days. His ride on Ulysses last week helped make him the biggest climber of the week anywhere in the world, and in any category, in the TRC Global Rankings. The first-choice jockey of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell operation in Europe gained 11 points to rise nine places to world #30 in the jockeys’ standings.

The Juddmonte International success was reflected in other categories too. It helped Stoute gain seven points to move to joint 12th in the trainers’ rankings. There was an eight-point lift for the Niarchos Family, now 18th from 22nd in the owners’ list, and Galileo gained five points week on week to … well, to stay miles clear as the world’s #1 sire.

Galileo, incidentally, is responsible for three of the last four winners of the Breeders' Cup Turf (Magician 2013, Found 2015, Highland Reel 2016).

The success of Ulysses illustrates that the Coolmore colossus does not depend entirely on horses trained by Aidan O’Brien to rule the world. Indeed, just at the moment, O’Brien’s Ballydoyle operation is going through something of flat spot - many of his runners were nearer last than first at York, Highland Reel’s brother Idaho was inexplicably poor when odds-on for the Sword Dancer at Saratoga on Saturday and several others, like Caravaggio, have been disappointing of late.

The same cannot be said of O'Brien's main rival in Europe, John Gosden, who is back up to world #4 (five points gained week on week) after a thoroughly satisfying York, highlighted by Enable and Cracksman

The Darley Yorkshire Oaks was a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, but that nine-furlong contest is hardly likely to even make the long list of potential targets for this magnificent filly, who is at her best being tested over the full mile and a half on vast, galloping tracks like Epsom, the Curragh and York, possibly on ground with some give, and is being aimed at the Arc on the first Sunday in October.

Her win in the York Group 1 (see YouTube video above) told us nothing we didn’t know already. It was a relatively weak field for such a prestigious event if you discount Queen’s Trust, last year’s BC Filly & Mare Turf winner, who is clearly much better over shorter on faster ground. Stoute’s filly made a bold bid to stay on Enable’s heels but paid the price late on and finished a tired third. She should be a much livelier proposition if sent to defend her crown at Del Mar, and is currently around 6-1 with British oddsmakers, second favourite behind Lady Eli, who is generally 3-1.

Gosden’s other big winner, the Frankel colt Cracksman, has been showered with rave reviews after powering six lengths clear of what unfortunately was an unexceptional field for the G2 Betway Great Voltigeur Stakes. The Arc has been mentioned, and his rating has now gone past the horses who finished ahead of him in the Epsom and Irish Derbys.

Like the filly, though, the Breeders’ Cup looks unlikely to be jotted down as a possible for his 2017 agenda.

Gosden, of course, has plenty of Breeders’ Cup success on his résumé, but his view is likely to be that what Cracksman needs to reach full potential is time and patience, not a trip to California in November.

John Gosden at the Breeders’ Cup

 

Runs

Wins

2nd

3rd

4th

Total prize money

All races

32

4

2

3

4

$6.78m

Two more significant moves in the TRC Global Rankings arose from these races last week. Frankel is now up to #6 in the sires’ rankings, and his contemporary Nathaniel, sire of Enable, is at #34 from 41. They are one and two among second-season stallions worldwide.

The third of the three Breeders’ Cup qualifiers at York was the G1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, highest-rated five-furlong race in the world last year and pretty close to that level again this time as the Sir Mark Prescott-trained Acclamation filly Marsha managed to be a quarter of a nostril in front of the furthest forward extremity of Lady Aurelia’s head at the point where he photograph was taken.

Lady Aurelia may not have been hugely convenienced by the good to soft, but Marsha has looked perfectly happy on fast ground herself before now and her career has been on a compelling upward trajectory for a while now, give or take the odd dip.

The race had been billed as a virtual match between the American filly and Sheikh Hamdan’s Battaash, but he wasted considerable energy being uncooperative before the start and his tame fourth place is probably best forgiven. Nevertheless all three, together certainly with Harry Angel and, possibly, Caravaggio, are still in the frame for European champion sprinter honours, although proper consideration for a trip to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is not likely to be on the radar for any of them just yet.

Marsha now has the ticket and would certainly have a live chance, even though neither her trainer, jockey Luke Morris nor her owners, the huge Elite Racing Club, have been represented at a Breeders’ Cup before. The bookies, though, aren’t even offering a price about her taking her place at Del Mar, for which Lady Aurelia is a shade of odds against with those firms that have a market on the race.

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